I love romance of all types, but I must admit a certain fondness for the small town contemporary. However, I occasionally find myself wondering whether the authors of these romances have ever lived in a small town, or whether their definitions of “small town” are just that different from mine.
I grew up in a truly tiny town. We had no addresses. We had no mail delivery. That was primarily a fishing and farming town, at least until they built a big highway to take people there at which point it acquired a vibrant tourist economy. It stayed tiny for 9 months a year, but suddenly became jam-packed every summer.
Now I live in what I would call a medium-sized suburb. The official population of our town is about 11,000, but we have a fair number of undocumented folk living here, so it’s probably a bit higher. We also have a religious community that I am not at all sure how is counted. The town just south of us has 17k people, but far fewer businesses. Likewise the town just north of us, which has 18k people. Despite being the least populated and physically (mileage-wise) smallest, we have the biggest “downtown.” We also have the only area hospital. We have no veterinarian, however–you have to go to the next town north or the next town south for that. But you can do that because, like many small towns, we are surrounded by other small towns that have what we don’t.
The other thing about most small towns in America is that their fire departments are volunteer. Like ours. And that’s where the gossip gets passed. You grow up in town, you join the fire department. Not always, it’s true, but an awful lot of folks do. And if they work for the town, the railroad, or the utility companies, or any kind of blue-collar work that keeps them local, it’s almost inevitable that they belong to the fire department.
People who have lived in my current town all their lives all know each other. They’ve dated each other, married each other, divorced each other. They’ve been in school together and worked in each others’ businesses. They belong to the fire department, and their wives and sisters belong to the women’s auxiliary. But a large part of this population moved here later on in life, and most of them know nothing about the inner workings of the town. A few of them join the FD, but not many. Although my husband and I are relatively recent additions to the town (we moved here 10 years ago), my husband is in the fire department and I am in the auxiliary, so we tend to know what’s up.
The other recently-arrived belong, for the most part, to the “bedroom community” part of the town and have issues getting home improvements approved (unless they hire entirely locally). They have no idea what businesses are going in or going out or why. Which companies haven’t paid their taxes. Which ones are being investigated. I don’t mean this as a slight—it’s simply the reality of life in my 11k-person-town: the newcomers know the parents of the kids in their kids’ class at school and the parents of the dogs at the dog park. Their focus isn’t here in town, it’s down in “the city”—NYC, that is—where most of them work.
When I wrote Toying With His Affections, my first contemporary romance, I knew that it would read like a lot of other small town contemporaries. I don’t mind that. I enjoy these books or I wouldn’t have written one. But there are aspects I wanted to differently, and one of those was the “everyone’s in your business” aspect. So I gave my protagonist an aunt who’s part of the town’s Ladies’ Auxiliary. I hope you enjoy reading my iteration of that particular type of group!